Three weeks back, when I went to a quaint little hill station, called the ‘Lansdowne’ hardly did I know that the small forest fires put up by the locals would turn into deadly infernos, to an extent, that they would become life-threatening , putting human lives in danger and destroying valuable flora and fauna.
But seeing the people so ruthlessly misusing the hills , one could easily gaze the impending dangers, but it would take place so soon was least expected.
Seeing the Television screens and Internet flooded with news and pictures of ominous fire and resinous smoke coming out of the forests of Uttarakhand, was heart-wrenching sight.
While starting from the Country Capital by train on a seven hour-long journey, in search of cool climes and fresh air, I formed various images of this hill-station and about the stories related to Garhwal Rifles Regimental training Centre there. But instead of salubrious weather and pristine environment during the one hour drive from Kotdhwar to Lansdowne, I was greeted by the scorching heat, the journey was no where close to the feel of a hill-station, the month of April turned out to be the cruellest month, even on the hills. The picturesque and plush landscape did not welcome us , but instead, the monster sized water tankers covering almost the entire roads of the hilly terrain greeted us, they were lined-up for their turns to fill up, that too, from the water coming out of the natural streams. All this was, to cater the hotel industry. Yes the natural water resources here were being used to an extent , that the water reached al most the ground level , almost depleted and the human hunger and greed had filled till the brim, but still there was want for more and more.
Yes the hotel industry here is en cashing the beauty and tourism sector, which is equally important to boom the economy of the place, but it should not be at the cost of the ecosystem.
The construction work was in full swing , the hotel industry has completely taken over, every nook every corner, the locals are fast selling their lands to make easy money without even realizing the importance of their hills.
Yes one does find hard-working women folk of the hills with cloth tied around their heads and carrying heavy loads, full of branches for firewood or green grass to be used as fodder, but how long will it serve their purpose, as forests are fast turning into the concrete jungles. A spot where cloud burst took place two years back still is a scary sight, as huge boulders can still be seen falling from the hill, luckily no loss of life took place then, but if a similar kind of catastrophic takes place now or in near future, then it may cause huge devastation.
Tourists pouring in herds beyond the capacity of the hills, and on the other side you witness locals and state forest department setting the edges of the forests on fire without digging any trenches.
Moving further, as the altitude increased, from Kotdhwar , en route to Lansdowne, along the winding road we witnessed sudden rise in the temperatures as well, some what similar to an ‘Inferno’. Smoke rising from the distant trees, forest all covered in smog and sky glowed red with the cries of the birds. Instead of cool breeze passing by, the air was all warm , rather hot.
When I confronted one of the local Bhula (brother) burning the pine-needles al most in the centre of the road , prompt came the reply that all this was to burn the unwanted weeds so that the roots of the plants and the trees could breathe . So he left it burning with crackling leaves and needles , which soon turned in to cinders and floating on every passer by. Flames rising high with smoke billowed out above the forest and continued to spread.
Some locals tried to convince us with their theory or may be logic that, there was nothing to worry about, as it was an annual phenomena, always happened during the Summers, but the explanation was not convincing and soon the dry, water deprived hills with equally thirsty humans, was now wanting to take revenge and soon the forest-fire went wild , and now the water from tankers was used to douse of this fire. As if sending a message across, that do not dare misuse the natural resources, what we give, we can take back too!!!
Agreed, that these yearly fires are beneficial for the Pine forests, for their growth and regeneration, but the damage they caused was much more than the benefits. To cut down on their work the forest officials had devised an easy way out, rather the advisable solution would have been to employ forest staff to remove and collect the pine-needles, where ever the fresh plantation was required.
On reaching ‘Lansdowne’, earlier known as ‘Kalu Dhanda’ which means ‘Black forest’, but later its name was changed to Lansdowne, after the name of erstwhile Viceroy of India, Lord Lansdowne I pondered over the thought
that before the forests in hills actually become black, it is high time to take action, before the life saving ‘flora’ or ‘fauna’ disappears and our Natural Resources become the “scapegoat” of our misdeeds.